BP’s board started fresh probe into Bernard Looney’s conduct last week

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The allegations that prompted Bernard Looney’s resignation from BP were made as recently as last week, showing the rapid unravelling of the chief executive’s position at the company, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The board responded by opening a second investigation in 18 months into Looney’s past personal relationships with colleagues before the chief executive resigned on Tuesday. The allegations were made by a different complainant to those received in May 2022, the people said.

The sequence of events between the latest claims and Looney’s departure with “immediate effect” highlights the short period of time during which the crisis at the 113-year old British energy group has unfolded.

BP’s communications staff were unaware of the allegations or of the board’s investigation when the Financial Times first approached the company on Tuesday about plans for Looney to resign. Looney decided to step down shortly after, the people said.

BP later said in a statement that Looney had resigned over his “conduct” in respect of his personal relationships with colleagues and stressed that the chief executive had failed to disclose details of all past relationships during an internal review last year.

That investigation in May 2022, which was prompted by allegations from an anonymous source, found no breach of BP’s code of conduct.

The board then sought and received written formal assurances from Looney that there were no further relationships or other matters that he needed to disclose, said one of the people with knowledge of the process.

BP then received new allegations last week, after which Looney accepted he had not been fully transparent with his previous disclosures, the company said.

BP said its investigation into Looney’s conduct is ongoing, with the support of external counsel, without further elaborating on the number or nature of these relationships.

A spokesperson for Looney declined to comment.

BP’s publicly available code of conduct does not ban personal relationships with colleagues but does flag them as a potential conflict of interest.

“A conflict of interest may occur when your interests or activities affect, or appear to affect, your ability to make objective decisions for BP,” the document states. Such a situation could include “having an intimate relationship with someone whose pay, advancement or management you can influence”, it adds.

Chief financial officer Murray Auchincloss, who has replaced Looney as interim chief, is also in a relationship with a BP employee, according to stock market disclosures made by the company. Auchincloss could not be contacted for comment.

The relationship was disclosed at the time Auchincloss became chief financial officer in 2020 and there is no suggestion that the relationship has breached BP’s code of conduct, the company said.

Auchincloss told staff in a town-hall meeting on Wednesday that BP’s “fundamentals” had not changed. “Together we have the full support of the board to continue to deliver the plan we have laid out,” he said, according to BP.

The company’s shares closed down 2.74 per cent to 508.5p in London on Wednesday.

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